Monday, January 21, 2019

The Primate Reflex

Human beings' minds have evolved along with culture. We have cultural technologies such as language and writing and communications media by means of which we interact. These have changed dramatically through time allowing the size of our societies to grow. These technologies are what allow us to realize our basic human cognitive potential as individuals.

Meanwhile, we have ways of producing and distributing the things we need to live, and every one of these ways requires a certain kind of social structure, a hierarchy of players. Which means, of course, that when technology changes, the social order has to change -- and inevitably there is social backlash and upheaval. For example, with the printing press came the burning of witches. People don't like change, especially people in high places that stand to lose them. They inherit a sense of entitlement that is eroded by social change and they do everything to resist losing it. They tend to demonize the rising opposition.

People used to believe that people were born into their natural place in a natural hierarchy, until of course the merchant class began to make inroads into power, upsetting the landed aristocracy. This was made possible by technological advances in transportation and navigation. Revolutions and attempts at overthrow followed. People don't like change, especially the people whose only sense of security comes from accepting the established order as natural.

The merchant class has now become the ruling class, the elite. But because its spokesmen don't share the tastes and interests or speak in the old ways of the landed aristocracy, they are readily seen and welcomed as overlords because they sound like the average man on the street. Nevertheless, they are the ruling class, and they rule with only their own interests at heart, for the most part.

With changing technology, relations between genders have changed dramatically. Legally, until the early 20th Century, women in western countries were treated as minors, and most of their labour was done in the home. They did not have a significant public voice because they had no significant public presence. Once labour saving devices became available to them in the home and ultimately the pill and other methods of birth control became available, they were able to step into the public sphere and make their voices heard to some extent. Yet it is still a world shaped by a long history of men occupying the only roles in the public sphere and this legacy still significantly informs most commonly held definitions of how things are and how things should be.

At times of social change due to technological revolution, there will be a backlash. The position of men  is being eroded by many things - women's gaining more of a voice in public affairs; changes in technology that have given rise to job loss through automation; a global economy with goods going to a greater diversity of people; rapid modernization (thought of as westernization) of non-western countries, a weakening of the wage earning power of the less well off in western countries.

The backlash is therefore directed at women, immigrants, or in the case of non-western countries, "the western world" where the lasting negative effects of imperialism are conflated with modernization. Things are changing very fast. These of course are nothing to do with the real problems, which are global warming and inequality (unfairness that is known to be unfair and anger inducing, and the corruption that goes with it).

So the smart thing to do would be to see where the current is flowing and do our best to adapt, but no, we're not that smart. We do the opposite. We regress. Even to chest pounding.